Coming from Image Comics this week is the 7174 Annual No. 1: a collection of comic strips, pin ups, and mind-bending artwork from the brilliant minds of T.P. Louise and Ashley Wood. This 88-page spectacular brings together for the first time a selection of rare works originally produced and published elsewhere. The images are faintly familiar, and the stories have a recognisable tint to them, but that is because Louise and Wood’s work is a uniquely warm homage to both East and Western comic book storytelling. From the obvious Ashtro Lad to the subtler War Comic references, the 7174 Annual is a smart and witty pastiche of comics, and a visual treat from cover to cover.
The art direction of the comic is striking and the cover sets the tone, letting you know exactly what you will get. Blocks of color are overlaid on the heavy inks in order to bring the characters to life. The style gives the images shape and form in a bold and brash way. Wood’s artwork demands attention and his multiple artistic endeavours, working on television, film, toy design, and game graphics, seeps into every page of this comic.
The book opens with the origin of Ashtro Lad, mimicking the famous Atomu (Known internationally as Astro Boy) comics and cartoon series from the 1950s and 1960s. But this is more than a passing homage to Osamu Tezuka; it is recognition of the profound effect the Japanese creator had on popular culture both in his homeland and abroad. At first, it seems to poke fun at the concept but, through the superb scripting from Louise, it actually enhances the mythic quality and the world building potential of the mechanical boy.
Louise draws on European comic traditions and sensibilities to bring eroticism to elements of the story. The concepts of sex, birth, and responsibility are embedded into the comic and the narrative. Constant voice-overs, portrayed in caption boxes, don’t always have clear owners but this doesn’t appear to matter as the narrative point is made nonetheless. This constant stream of consciousness, in style and substance, is a call back to classic Heavy Metal Magazine strips and the works of Moebius and other Bande dessinee creators.
There is a mix of art influences from Eastern and Western comics history, but there is also a merging of innocence and experience in the narrative, a further combination of the child friendly Japanese comic strips and the adult themed European books. Louise and Wood blend these influences together in each short story to produce something that is funny, endearing, and often risque.
This comic is a collection of short stories that share a background narrative link. On occasions the stories bleed into one another seamlessly, while at other points the jump is a little more jarring. However, the ongoing adventure and the cavalier way in which the narrative is edited together adds charm to the story. Subtle gestures produce laugh out loud moments while over the top moments of mechanical madness are visually awe inspiring. This comic is clearly a labour of love, wearing its influences on its sleeve. Older readers will be whisked back to the 1990s with the Pixie-esqu lyrics, Industrial rock aesthetic, and the manga obsession of merging organic and machine parts that was sweeping the world from Japan. Newer readers will be faced with a plethora of ideas to indulge and explore.
The 7174 Annual stands out against Image’s usual output, and will appeal to readers of other erotic fictions like Faithless from BOOM! Studios, or Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. It has the anarchic wit of Tank Girl and the Kafkaesque psychology of Dan Watters’ Limbo or Coffin Bound. Somewhere within this melee of style is the beautifully crafted poetry of Louise’s words, unfortunately, they do sometimes get lost beneath the striking artwork and dynamic page layouts.
With a myriad of pin ups and splash pages, the 7174 Annual is packed with everything an Ashley Wood and T.P. Louise fan could desire. If you have read any of Wood’s UV Explorer Newsletters and were left wanting more, then this is the comic you’ve been waiting for. It is unusual, stylistic, and innovative. One of my hopes for comics this year is a desire to see bolder and different experimentation’s with the form. Comics like the 7174 Annual will lead this experimentation as it showcases that influences do not have to be limited to one source to tell a story. Mixing a host of influences from around the world can create mind blowing results.
Let the mantra be chanted: ‘Not naked, but draped in art!’